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  • Writer's pictureBenny Kuriakose

Site Considerations in the Ideal School Design

The design and organisation of schools should allow students to experience the world outside of their classrooms. The process of school planning involves thinking not only about the present but also about the school's requirements for the next 25–30 years. The interaction of a child with the building and its elements can assist in maximising the learning experience at school. Spaces can be designed in a way that they support different methods of learning. So, how can we build an ideal school that incorporates the overall development of children? This blog article explains one of the major aspects of planning an ideal school: the significance of site considerations in school design.


The planning of the school need to consider the requirements for the next 25–30 years along with present needs.
The planning of the school need to consider the requirements for the next 25–30 years along with present needs.

List of Contents



1. Understanding the Site


Any site should preferably be studied before planning the school layout. It helps in understanding the locational, geographical, historical and infrastructural context of the school. A master plan is a graphical sketch which contains details about the location of buildings, landscape and other site components, arranged to achieve the best possible configuration. Studying the site helps in laying out an efficient master plan for the school.

Site to be thoroughly studied before planning of the school
Site to be thoroughly studied before planning of the school.

2. Mapping the Site Layout


It is important to read the existing site to get an idea of the available structures, features, and the spaces that are additionally required to fulfill the school’s needs.


Step 1 :


For schools that are already built, the management can organise a team to measure and draw a site plan of the existing buildings and other site features like landscape, level differences, parking spaces and even elements such as trees, wells, electric posts etc, with accurate dimensions. It can be challenging to make a site plan and professionals may need to be consulted for drafting it.


All the existing details of the site to be clearly checked and marked
All the existing details of the site to be clearly checked and marked.

Step 2 :


The site plan can be used by the school management to identify :


• Buildings to be refurbished

• Buildings to be conserved

• Buildings to be demolished

• Existing landscape to be conserved

• Mapping open spaces

• Spaces for playgrounds

• Spaces where new buildings can come up


A building of the campus that can be retained.
A building of the campus that can be retained.

2.1 Buildings to be Refurbished


Demarcate the buildings that can be re-used. The buildings that are relatively new and in good shape can be retained on the site. These buildings may only need a maintenance check or refurbishment. They may be utilised for the future requirements of the school.


2.2 Buildings to be Conserved


Buildings of heritage or historical value can be retained and conserved. Demolition of such buildings can be avoided to preserve the cultural heritage and the emotional association of the alumni with the building. A cumulative decision can be made by the school authorities about maintaining such buildings as per the requirements of the school.


A heritage building that can be conserved
A heritage building that can be conserved.

2.3 Buildings to be Demolished


Some buildings may need to be demolished for reasons like:


• The building maybe highly damaged and is beyond repair.

• The building is inadequate from the point of view of the present requirements.

• When the buildings are placed in an unplanned manner on the site, leading to lack of sufficient light and ventilation.

• If there is absence of architectural quality.

• When the building cannot be expanded to accommodate the school requirements.


Buildings on the site placed in an unplanned manner.
Buildings on the site placed in an unplanned manner.

For example, an existing single storied building may need to be demolished to accommodate a two or three storied building, as per the requirements of the school. Demolition may also be necessary to bring in sufficient open spaces or playground area for the students.


A building that can be demolished.
A building that can be demolished.

2.4 Existing Landscape to be Conserved


The existing trees and landscape of the site can be conserved, as much as possible. They provide a cool and shaded environment for children to play and sit under.


A tree being used as a learning aid.
A tree being used as a learning aid.

2.5 Mapping Open Spaces


While drawing the site layout, demarcate vacant lands on site. These can be used by the school for:


• Constructing new blocks or buildings.

• Creating spaces like open air theatre, play grounds and other outdoor spaces.

• Or, they can be left vacant for future expansion of the school.


Vacant pieces of land can be used for school requirements
Vacant pieces of land can be used for school requirements.

3. Overall School Requirements


The entire requirements for the school's current and future demands can be set out by management. All the components of a school play a significant part in enhancing the role of a classroom. It is important to note that the space requirements for physical fitness activities of the children like sports grounds and play areas are not lost while suggesting functions for

the vacant lands.



Management can outline the whole needs for the school's existing and future expectations by involving teachers and students in the process.


4.Construction of New Buildings


While constructing a new building, some aspects like topography, building orientation, building scale etc. can be taken into consideration for planning the school.


5. Location and Topography


In the school layout, it would be wise to consider the existing topography and slope of the land to integrate the school building with the landform. Since Kerala has an undulating topography in most areas, it becomes important to understand the nature of land before planning the school layout. The orientation of the building should preferably be parallel to the slope of the contour. This would reduce the foundation costs, compared to a building that is designed against the slope.


Orientation of the building is an important aspect to consider.
Orientation of the building is an important aspect to consider.

If the slope of land is such that the level difference is not much, the land need not be cut and filled to form a flat surface; instead it can be levelled to form terraced surfaces. In such a case, a level difference within two buildings can be treated by adding a flight of stairs between them.


Use of level of land on site.
Use of level of land on site.

While planning the school layout, one may consider the natural slope of the site for effective drainage of water. The water drain will always take the course of the natural contour and topography of the land. When a building is planned on such a site, the channels formed during monsoon may need to be cautiously considered.

Natural channel formed by the flow of rainwater
Natural channel formed by the flow of rainwater

6. Planning of a School Layout on a Site

The public and private spaces within the site can have a passive transition from public to semi public to the private space. This is done to minimize the disturbance caused by the visitors within the private areas. One way of bringing this transition is by grouping the buildings based on the function, nature of the building and the end users of the space.


A sample master plan of school layout.
A sample master plan of school layout.

The public spaces like administration office, auditorium, library, kitchen, dining, computer labs, can be close to the main entrance of the school, so that these spaces can be easily accessed by students, teachers, as well as parents and visitors. These are spaces that can also be used by the community, post school hours or even during weekends.


Position of public and private spaces in the layout.
Position of public and private spaces in the layout.

Spaces like classrooms, workshops, laboratories, playgrounds, and other student amenities can be placed towards the interior of the site, so that their functions are not hindered by any disturbances in the public spaces.


The classrooms of the pre-primary, primary, secondary and the higher-secondary can be in separate blocks. The pre-primary block may be planned such that it is at a walking distance from the entrance of the school. A drop off zone can also be provided where the parents can hand the children over to the care of the teachers. This ensures that pre-primary kids do not have to cross areas of heavy vehicular traffic. It can be placed close to the office or the staff room, making it convenient for the parents to drop the kids in a safe zone, under the watch of the teachers.


The spaces that are common, or shared by all the students can be grouped into one zone. Some school amenities like labs, workshops, library, activity clubs, dining spaces etc., can be organised in a group at a location from where, it is accessible to students of all age groups.

Library blocks placed away from the playgrounds.
Library blocks placed away from the playgrounds.

The playgrounds can be placed away from the library block and the classrooms to minimize the disturbance coming from the grounds.


The pre-primary and primary block classrooms can be close to a separate play area for the kids, so that they can access it easily. This will also assure they are not bullied by the senior students sharing the same ground.


The sanitation facilities need not be in a separate block if a new classroom block is being constructed. Accordingly, the school may give provision for good water facilities in the toilet blocks to ensure that they are maintained clean and healthy. However, in existing school buildings, the toilet blocks can be added, in such a way that it is not far away from the classroom block.


A toilet block within the classroom block.
A toilet block within the classroom block.

It is necessary to keep in mind that the toilet blocks for the nursery students, can be relatively close to the nursery section of the school campus for them to access sanitation facilities quickly.


The parking for two wheelers and four wheelers can be segregated from the school campus. They can be provided at a zone between the main entrance and the administration block of the school. The parking of the school bus can also be separated from the classroom areas, considering the safety of the students.


Parking area outside the main entrance of the school.
Parking area outside the main entrance of the school.

7. Building Heights


The school building can go up to three floors high. If there is sufficient land area, the buildings can even be single storied. Vertical access within the school campus can be done by using stairs, ramps or lifts. Ramps and lifts can be provided for facilitating access for differently abled and elderly teachers within the campus.


Variation in heights of the buildings according to the available site area.
Variation in heights of the buildings according to the available site area.

The buildings within the school campus can be well connected. The connections or passages between different blocks may be given at least in the first floor level, if not at all levels. This is done to ease the circulation of the teachers and students moving between buildings, also improving the interaction among them.


The minimum distance between two or more buildings with a height of 12 meters, should preferably be 6 meters. It is preferable for the layout to provide a minimum distance between the blocks, equal to the height of the buildings.


Passageways connecting the buildings at higher floors.
Passageways connecting the buildings at higher floors.

A setback is the measurement between the building and the boundary wall of the site. The school building can have a minimum setback of 3 meters, and can preferably be up to 6 meters. This setback area can be developed as a garden or landscaped area by planting trees and shrubs, to cut off the vehicular disturbance from the roads, also allowing sufficient light and ventilation into the building. Buildings with lesser setback areas lead to unusable or negative spaces.


8. Planning Layouts for School Components


Once the site layout has been documented, the design process may begin with the planning of the components of the school on the site. There are various methods by which planning of classrooms on a site can be done, are illustrated through sketches below :


A layout having large seperate blocks linked to the central space, as a shared common area.
A layout having large seperate blocks linked to the central space, as a shared common area.

The students, teachers and parents, have an important role to play in the school building design. The design can aid, influence, teach, and structure the thoughts of students in a school program. The process of planning a school entails considering not only the current but also the needs of the next 25-30 years. Despite the fact that this activity may slow down the procedure, it is critical to pay attention to all these criterion.


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